Movie Trivia: Top Gun
TOP GUN is the quintessential 1980s movie. It looks like the most gorgeous commercial you’ve ever seen, it defines a specific sort of Reagan-era patriotism, and it features a synth-laden score punctuated by immortal pop-rock classics. It was a huge hit with an effect on the world that went far beyond the walls of the multiplex.
Now, the sequel, TOP GUN: MAVERICK, is finally flying towards theatres. In the spirit of big hair, wearing a leather jacket in San Diego in the middle of summer, and living in the danger zone, we wanted to share some great trivia from the original movie. Here are 20 amazing facts and pieces of trivia about TOP GUN.
Essential Top Gun Facts and Trivia
1. TOP GUN was based on a magazine article. The May 1983 issue of "California Magazine" featured an article called "Top Guns," by Ehud Yonay. It detailed the fighter pilots who trained at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. The air station had dubbed itself "Fightertown, USA."
2. Tony Scott (brother of ALIEN and GLADIATOR director Ridley Scott) was hired to direct based on the strength of a commercial. While Scott had already directed one feature — 1983’s moody vampire thriller THE HUNGER — he got the gig for TOP GUN based on a car commercial in which a Saab turns into a fighter jet.
3. Seeking the approval and assistance of the US Navy, several key changes were made to the script. Dogfights were re-written to take place over international waters, instead of in Cuba, and Goose’s death was changed from a mid-air collision to an ejector seat malfunction. Additionally, the love interest eventually played by Kelly McGillis was changed to a civilian contractor, instead of a fellow enlisted member of the Navy. Take my breath away, indeed.
4. Matthew Modine was almost Maverick. He turned down the role because he didn't like the pro-military stance of the script by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.
5. Almost everything was done for real. Paramount paid the Pentagon almost $2 million for their services on the film, paying almost $7,800 per hour to get some of the planes on film.
6. Tony Scott put his money where his mouth is. Scott was filming planes taking off from the aircraft carrier, backlit by the sun. The commanding officer changed the ship’s course, which eliminated the backlight Scott desperately wanted. When he asked if they could go back on the previous course, Scott was told that it would cost $25,000. Scott cut a check right there and was able to shoot for another five minutes.
7. The movie was huge. TOP GUN was the #1 movie of 1986, with a worldwide box office total of more than $350 million.
8. The Navy used TOP GUN as a recruiting tool. A 1987 ad for the Navy encouraged you to “live the adventure.” The commercial even had music that sounded like “Danger Zone,” and plenty of moody, atmospheric shots reminiscent of Jeffrey Kimball’s smoky cinematography. The Navy also set up recruitment booths outside of movie theaters. Supposedly it worked – a 1987 Los Angeles Times article is headlined "Top Gun Boosting Service Sign-Ups."
9. The soundtrack, featuring songs like "Danger Zone" and "Playing with the Boys," was a smash. It sold 9 million copies and won an Oscar for Best Original Song, for Berlin’s "Take My Breath Away." Harold Faltermeyer, the influential German electronic artist who produced the score, won a Grammy for his instrumental track "Top Gun Anthem." It was truly unstoppable.
10. Even sunglasses flew off the shelves. Ray-Ban reported that the sale of Aviator-style sunglasses jumped 40% after the film premiered.
11. The movie broke records on home video too. TOP GUN was the first major blockbuster to be "priced to own" at $26.95. Most videotapes were much more expensive, as they were priced for purchase by rental stores. The release had a huge accompanying marketing campaign and even a tie-in for Diet Pepsi (you know, the diet cola fighter pilots drink). It was the highest-selling video cassette before it even came out and became a record-holder after release, selling a whopping 2.9 million cassettes.
12. It inspired two amusement park attractions. During Paramount’s brief foray into theme park ownership, two roller coasters bore TOP GUN branding. One was at King’s Island in Ohio; the other was at California’s Great Adventure. After Paramount sold the parks to Cedar Fair, the coasters lost their branding and soundtrack, which had included "Danger Zone."
13. It was parodied (a lot). The 1991 comedy HOT SHOTS spoofed TOP GUN endlessly, along with other films of the period. It was also an influence on Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s puppet action movie TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE.
14. Quentin Tarantino has a theory. In the 1994 film SLEEP WITH ME, he gives a very long-winded, and not very family-friendly, explanation for how TOP GUN is a metaphor for homosexuality. Look it up on YouTube if you want to see it in its full glory.
15. Several of the movie's actors reunited on "ER." Anthony Edwards, Michael Ironside and Rick Rossovich all appeared on the hit NBC medical drama, created by Michael Crichton and executive produced by Steven Spielberg.
16. Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer reprised their roles in an animated movie... sort of. In the 2013 Disney movie PLANES, set in a world of anthropomorphic planes, the actors play ‘Bravo’ and ‘Echo,’ two fighter planes who lend assistance to the hero.
17. A sequel has been in development since at least 2010. A New York Magazine report from that year stated that producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, and star Tom Cruise would reunite for a sequel to the hit movie. Bruckheimer actually started talking about it the year before, when he was doing press for Disney’s THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE.
18. Sequel plans were complicated by Tony Scott’s tragic death. Scott took his own life in 2012. That stalled the project for several years.
19. In 2017, Tom Cruise started talking about a sequel once again. During the press tour for THE MUMMY, Cruise said that TOP GUN 2 would start filming within the next year. Cruise must have been feeling the need for speed pretty badly by then.
20. The sequel, TOP GUN: MAVERICK, is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who also directed Tom Cruise in OBLIVION.
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All images courtesy of Paramount Pictures.